State v. Myrick, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-146 (Apr. 20, 2021)

The defendant was charged with assault of a detention officer causing physical injury in Bertie County. Defense counsel obtained a capacity evaluation of the defendant. It showed that the defendant was not capable to stand trial but indicated his capacity could be restored. At a hearing on the defendant’s capacity, the trial court failed to make findings regarding the defendant’s capacity but instead found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity (“NGRI”) and ordered him involuntarily committed.

The defendant failed to give notice of appeal in a timely manner and the Court of Appeals consequently lacked jurisdiction to consider it. In recognition of his defective notice of appeal, the defendant filed a petition for writ of certiorari. That petition was also flawed in that it failed to identify the order from which review was sought. The defendant subsequently filed a second petition for certiorari to remedy that defect. In its discretion, the court granted the second petition to reach the merits of the defendant’s arguments.

(1) G.S. 15A-1002 requires a hearing when the defendant’s capacity to proceed is at issue and requires the court to make findings supporting the trial court’s conclusions. In failing to determine the defendant’s capacity and make findings in support, the trial court violated a statutory mandate. In addition, the defendant’s due process rights were violated when the NGRI plea was entered without a finding that the defendant was capable of proceeding. There was also no evidence that the defendant agreed to the entry of the plea. Although this was a question of first impression in North Carolina, the court agreed with other jurisdictions that a NGRI plea from a person lacking capacity is a due process violation. The court observed that this error was prejudicial, in that one acquitted by reason of insanity bears the burden of proof to show that the person is no longer mentally ill. See G.S. 122C-276.1(c). The NGRI order was therefore vacated, and the matter remanded for a capacity hearing.

(2) Under G.S. 15A-1008, a defendant who lacks capacity is entitled to dismissal once he or she has been confined for the maximum period of time authorized for a prior record level VI offender. Here, because the offense was a class I felony punishable by 21 months at most and the defendant had been confined for at least 23 months, in the event the trial court determines that the defendant lacks capacity on remand, the charge must be dismissed.